Julia Schmidt lives in Goshen, Indiana, is a current seminary student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and a member of Southside Fellowship. She is working towards a Masters of Divinity with a concentration in Peace Studies. She recently completed an internship with Mennonite Central Committee Great Lakes exploring the idea of an immigrant resource center in Elkhart County and leading the Elkhart-Goshen Sanctuary Coalition. After graduation in May 2018, Julia hopes to work full time for immigrant justice in Elkhart County, Indiana.
On Tuesday night I attended Ted & Co.’s play, Discovery: A Comic Lament, written by my fellow seminarian and friend at AMBS, Alison Brookins. I was excited to go because of a recent seminary class I had taken in June about the Trail of Death. The Trail of Death was the 1838 removal of the Potawatomie Indians from Northern Indiana to Kansas. My class spent a week traveling this route, mostly in vehicles, and learning about how the land was stolen in order that white settlers could move in. Mennonite settlers were some of the first ones to move in to take the land.
Alison’s play addressed this particular removal, as well as the Doctrine of Discovery more broadly as it related to whites taking land as their manifest destiny both when the United States was “discovered,” and more recently with the pipeline being built through the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota.
Alison included a Russian Mennonite story of a young college student who visits the protests at Standing Rock and who learns the history of her family’s land in Kansas. As this girl talks to her dad, she asks the question, “How did I not know this history?” Afterwards as we walked back to our hotel, my own mom made reminded me that I asked the same question only a few weeks earlier.
I think that was significant that this play happened the first day of convention. The Doctrine of Discovery gives a glimpse of a history, including a Mennonite history, that is not pretty as it tells the story of a theology that gave privilege to whites at the expense, the genocide, of Native Americans. By beginning convention with this acknowledgement, the Mennonite church is making a statement. They are making a statement that church is more than worship, but it is about doing life together, which means being in relationship with all of creation around us. It is about acknowledging past and present harm in order that reconciliation can occur and God’s shalom may prevail. In seminary, we talk a lot about God’s shalom and how it is what the work of the church should be. Shalom is more than just peace, but God’s gift of a deep wellbeing for all of creation. As Christians we are to be a part of reconciliation and by acknowledging who the original people of the land were, as was done at the beginning of the first worship service here in Orlando, and then showcasing a play that addressed the wrongs that whites have committed against the Native Americans, is a tiny way that the Mennonite church can be a part of this reconciliation.
I also believe that the play gave great insight into how the delegate sessions and upcoming Future of the Church Summit should look like.
As a church, we have some hard issues to face. In many arenas, such as the Doctrine of Discovery, the call for racial justice and becoming welcoming, inclusive churches, Mennonites have not lived into their calling of God’s shalom.
My hope is that the church can look at these difficult parts of our history and current structures to acknowledge our troubled past to find ways to move towards true reconciliation and a better future. We need to do this with lament and accepting that we might not have all the answers. Indeed, the play displayed this well, as there was no one answer presented on how to proceed once we learn this history. However, it also presented another way to deal with difficult issues by using humor. As we laugh together, we become close together and find common ground to make it through hard times. Humor and lament are needed as we continue through this week here at convention and in our home congregations as we all live out the call to be a witness to God’s shalom.